I’m ready. No more saying goodbye. No more justification or explanation. No more milking all possible value out of these last few hours with my dog. No more watching my inebriated father molest my date at my going-away dinner in an effort to apologize for announcing that he wished I’d have married this other girl I dated ten years ago. It’s all over but the leaving. Well … not exactly, but that’s been the story these last couple weeks. I’ve already run into three people who thought I’d left already. They looked frustrated, as if I’d played some kind of trick on them. It’s feels like someone is slowly pulling the dressing off an old wound that you can’t reach or you’d have ripped it off already. Part of me wishes I’d have waited until today to spring it on everybody. It’s too much time, too much talk. Praise whatever maker you believe in that none of us knows our own death, or you’d exhaust yourself in an effort to squeeze as much joy as humanly possible into each and every second as they slowly tick off the doomsday clock. It’s like work. However, conversations do have a little more bulk these days. It almost makes you wish you could stay in this perpetual state of near-departure forever. People throw parties for you; they buy you gifts and speak to you with feeling about important shit. Maybe it’s a shame there isn’t more of that around without someone dying, or going off to war, or prison, or Korea. Although, given enough time, I’m sure it would become as tiresome as small talk.
Twenty-twenty-twenty four hours to go. This is what I wanted. I gotta say, it’s a little scary. This is me taking a deep breath. More walking, less talking. This is me parachuting. There’s no way in hell I spent enough time listening to those “How To Speak Korean” audio discs. This is me throwing myself against the rocks. I hope this internet thing continues to thrive. This is me getting lost. What’s Korean for, “Hey, now wait a second, that wasn’t in my contract?”
It occurred to me that there isn’t one item in my wallet that will be of any use to me upon landing in Korea. Preferred shopper cards to all the local grocery stores, business cards for enterprises not located in South Korea, even my driver’s license is useless to me there. I could easily reinvent myself. Okay, what can’t I change? My name, they have that now, but very little else. Say, for instance, I’ve always wanted to have a nickname. Nothing ever stuck when I was a kid. I was born to a vanilla name that didn’t appear to possess the kind of malleable properties necessary for creative ridicule. I envied the guys with firm, enduring aliases. It immediately suggests that there is at least one interesting thing about you. A nickname says to people, “I’m paid attention to enough by my peers to be given a moniker,” and they always come with some interesting story to validate them. I am now in a position to fabricate for myself a nickname with its very own unique anecdote to lend it credibility. Hi, I’m Troy but my friends call me Primo because I’ve always taken first place in every manly demonstration of prowess I’ve competed in. Or … I could be one of those guys who has a weird nickname that he won’t explain but still insists on going by. My name is Troy but everyone calls me Bandito. Don’t ask! Only two people in the world know the story behind that, and I don’t know you well enough to make you the third. Now I’m a man of mystery, see, spreading intrigue wherever I travel. You can call me Nubs. Just call me Scoots. Call me Tripper. I’m Bucket.
I’m a little disappointed that no one has begged me to stay. Apparently, nobody will fall apart without me here. I don’t imagine there won’t be those who miss me, but not one of them has fallen to their knees, scrabbling at the pavement, wailing at the thought of my absence. Maybe that’s how you know it’s really time to move on. Who would beg you not to leave? Your wife or husband? Don’t have one. Your children? Nope, not that I know of. If I didn’t name them, then they aren’t mine and they certainly don’t need me around failing to meet their expectations every other weekend. The people close to me don’t need me, which is very different from loving me. They want me to go nuts and travel the world. It’s as if they’re saying, “Go, we don’t need you. See if you can find someone who does.” To be fair, I’m very careful to avoid anyone growing reliant upon me. If I sense something like that might be happening, I’ll be sure to disappoint him or her early so as to prevent him or her from making a habit of it. Although, it could be that the reality of my departure hasn’t fully hit this certain someone just yet. I might be in store for a very public airport scene where someone yet unbeknownst to me will elude security to run out onto the runway in an effort to stop my flight so that I can be told just how necessary I really am. But, as I watch this person promptly ushered off to some undisclosed, basement broom closet beneath Pittsburgh International to be swept for explosive devices and waterboarded, I know I would only think: Jesus, who could function within the vice grip of that kind of dependence? Only in a Hollywood movie would someone find that sort of obvious insanity romantic. But, as it stands, no one shatters, I can breathe (and travel free of guilt), and if I die tomorrow my tombstone will read: Here lies Troy J. Craig; completely unnecessary.
There is this one girl. This trip was well on its way to happening by the time we met. It may have been the subject of our first conversation, in fact. It’s not a deal-breaker at that point. You haven’t even had dinner yet. By the time you think about putting on the brakes, it’s already too late.
“I like this. Maybe we should stop seeing each other.”
“I like this. Why would we stop seeing each other?”
“You’re leaving; where can it go?”
“We’re all gonna die eventually; where can any of it go?”
And, the two of you continue with this pointless exercise in futility that makes such perfect sense. I don’t know what happens tomorrow and I wanna try to stop living like I do. I want to fully comprehend the difference between sound preparation for the future, and behaving as if I possess consummate knowledge of what that future holds. I’m in love with this idea of any single moment in life preceding an infinite number of possibilities, an uncountable number of potential outcomes. Damn, that’s exciting! But, I spend so much time convincing myself that I know exactly how this situation or that situation will unfold that I shape my path to meet it. Thus, I turn my glorious, unpredictable journey into a mutinous, self-fulfilling prophecy. Stupid human.
Anyway, you have this thing, and it’s pretty cool, and just because you think you’re probably leaving town on business, it’s no reason to smash this thing into tiny, unrecognizable pieces. I asked before: how then do I better appreciate what’s mine, while it’s mine? Maybe real gratitude lies in the “not smashing” of the thing … that, and a little less attention to what you perceive to be the inevitable outcome. I’ll call it healthy repression. Ignoring periodically that death is waiting in ambush for you and could be lurking around any corner is natural, after all. A thing’s ultimate demise can be forgotten for a time; there is living to be done.
There was a fleeting moment when I entertained the idea of taking my dog with me to Korea. After all, I can’t remember being apart from him for more than a couple of nights in over eight years. That is a record commitment for me concerning relationships with other living things. His name is Solo because when he was a puppy only one of his testicles ever descended. He had both of them but the one was hidden from sight, tucked away somewhere safe in his innards, leaving that lonely gonad to hang there solo. When he was about nine months old he was diagnosed with an untreatable liver condition that keeps him extremely thin, but as he ages the symptoms have multiplied. You can’t pity him, though. I won’t let you. He doesn’t know that he’s sick, see? And I’ve never told him, so he behaves much like any ordinary, healthy dog would. He does, however, require medication and a little more attention to certain routines than you would probably give an adult dog without his condition. Doubtless, I am in no way prepared for the loss that I will experience upon leaving him behind. You can pity me. He’ll be fine – better than fine. He’ll be cared for by family who have land, dogs, horses, even pigs. I, on the other hand, will be inconsolable without him. I have no pigs.
People always say things like, “You need to appreciate what you have,” and “Be grateful.” Okay, I’m in. I want to fully acknowledge the blessing that is these last few days with my dog. How do I do that, exactly? Can someone describe to me the act of being grateful? Merriam-Webster describes appreciation as “a favorable critical estimate or sensitive awareness.” If I was to write down instructions to someone on how to appreciate what they have, what would the first line read? Okay, first, close your eyes. Always with the closing of the eyes, right? Alright, so I can’t do this while driving. I’m serious, though; I desperately want to better appreciate the now before I lose it. Oops, shit, there it went. Did I appreciate it enough? Can I be thankful for what I have while doing anything else or will this require all of my mental faculties? I’ve got things to do today. Can I practice flashing the perfect sideways peace sign in the mirror, all the while practicing perfect, heartfelt appreciation for my special bond with my dog? It seems unlikely. This is what sedentary, lazy people should say they’re doing when criticized by their lack of activity. “I’m appreciating this precious moment and I couldn’t possibly clean out the gutters without becoming distracted from that!” I suppose it all depends on the activity. I’ll bet I could be thankful for the time I have left with Solo while also taking him for a walk. We’ll start there.
Ultimately, I decided to not take him along because I have no idea what I’m getting into. I don’t know where I’m staying when I first arrive. Do people in South Korea keep dogs as pets? Would he need to be quarantined? Could I find an animal doctor for him? But the big question is, what’s really in his best interest? Before she agreed to take him in, my step-sister said she was worried that if something happened to him I might forever blame her. I told her I would be surprised if he was still alive when I returned. If you think that’s hard to hear, imagine how hard it is for me to say it. When he was diagnosed, I asked the question that everyone asks: “How long does he have?” They took a guess but they did it in months. Eight years is the low-end of a healthy Doberman’s life-expectancy and he’s closing in on nine. It doesn’t seem like a reasonable expectation to imagine he might be here when I return. However, I’ve grieved for this dog believing on half a dozen occasions that I was spending my last moments with him only to see him recover, time and time again. He defies odds; that’s what he does, every moment that he’s alive. I wasn’t kidding when I said that nobody’s ever told this dog that he’s sick. He seriously has no idea.
Don’t think for a second that I’ve managed to talk myself out of any guilt over this. I feel like one of those high school girls who gets knocked up by Bobby Badass just before he leaves town forever to go race tractors. So, she dumps the kid off at her mother’s because she wants to go off to college and make something of herself but the kid thinks his grandmother is his mom, and he has no dad, and he’s never quite right, so he drops out of school to go race tractors. I tell myself that it would only be selfish of me to drag him along like a boy who won’t part with his soiled binky. I’m the one that signed on for this, not him. Truthfully, I have no idea what I’m doing … with any of it. If anything about this makes any sense, trust me, it’s purely accidental. I’m abandoning my dog. There is only one living thing that depends on me for anything and I’m turning my back to him. Funny, I thought writing it all out might make me feel better.